Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2006

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Ross GORDON, The Historiographical Debate on the Charges of Anti-Semitism Made Against Lionel Groulx, M.A. Thesis (History), University of Ottawa, 1996, 141p.


Section IV: 1970-1980


The 1960's were turbulent times throughout Canada.  In Quebec there were the final upheavals of the Quiet Revolution; in Canada as a whole there were debates about the nation's identity and future.  It was perhaps one of the headiest times for academics the country has ever had.  They were in demand to explain the past, to reinterpret and explain why Canada and Canadians had turned out the way they had and to give clues as to what the future contained for the federation.  Lionel Groulx died in Expo year, 1967, and was praised for his contributions to the culture and history of Quebec.  But by then he had been long since declared redundant, his books no longer cited or even read.  And little was written about him in a serious manner.  The almost total rejection of the past by the thrusting generation of academics and writers of Quebec during the Quiet Revolution sidelined his work to irrelevancy.  Only some remnants of respect kept it from being attacked more openly. 

The generations of pre-1950's Quebec, before the arrival of the neo-nationalists, had been viewed as ethnically homogeneous, but not ethnically conscious. (1)   The rise of tensions between groups was a result of this growing ethnic consciousness in French Quebec, pushed along by the revisionist social scientists.  English monopolies were attacked in the 1950's as they were in the 1930's, but not ,as previously, because they were bad for the culture or 'soul'.  The new white collar French Quebec attacked the 'other' because it wanted the economic and political levers for itself and felt that it could accomplish more if it acted as a unified force. (2)   Groulx's maître chez nous returned as a rallying cry for a Francophone middle class that wanted more control and opportunities to climb corporate ladders in their own province. (3)   Interestingly, as his reputation waned, Groulx's ideas were being used to great effect.  "Lionel Groulx's economic and social views were academically marginal and politically ineffective until the emergence of the new middle class and its access to political power.  His views have become the unifying ideology giving political cohesiveness to this new social class. (4)   As Sociologist Hubert Guindon noted in 1964, "many of the themes of political concern are to be explicitly found in his writings...ambivalence towards foreign capitalists and foreign labour unions, indignation at the handing over of national resources to foreign investors, the lack of an entrepreneurial bourgeoisie...the binational theory of Confederation." (5)  The reinterpretation of Confederation is not new, its acceptance by the growing Francophone middle class is.  "There are strong reasons to expect that this group, would be attracted to Quebec nationalism.  As aspirants to managerial positions they would be especially likely to have resented Anglophone dominance of managerial positions in the Quebec economy and in the federal bureaucracy." (6)

The new nationalism of the 1960's was territorial, "defining the outer limits of the nation in terms of the established provincial boundaries of Quebec." (7)   It was not necessarily separatist but called for the transformation of Canada's institutions. (8)   It was a growing movement that was not only secular and focussed on economic matters, but was similar to other nationalist movements world-wide in its affectation of socialist ideals.  It built on the old nationalism of Groulx et al. but they would not have liked the direction nationalism was taking regarding the spiritual side of society.

With the turmoil and change came new ways of interpreting things, including history.  Marxist analysis was big on campuses and the search was on for ideological explanations to present day inequalities.  For the intellectuals who preached the inevitability of statehood for Quebec, there was now even a political party, the Parti Québécois, challenging for power.  Lionel Groulx was due for another re-evaluation.

Increasingly there was overlap between social science departments.  Sociologists had been studying the effects of religious and cultural taboos on Quebec's francophone bourgeoisie keeping the middle class preoccupied, for example, with liberal professions and away from creating businesses of their own.  Historians who had been fighting over the place of the Conquest in deciding Quebec's present state of affairs began to use the tools of the Sociologist, the Anthropologist and Political Scientists to re-interpret why Quebec society was the way it was.  It should be noted that of all of the authors who studied Groulx's nationalism and anti-Semitic writings from 1970 onwards, only one, Susan Mann Trofimenkoff, is a professional historian..  The others are from other fields of social science who have seen in Groulx a key, perhaps, to explaining their society.  It has been noted that historians, consciously or not, choose a subject because of influences they feel in their present situations. (9)   For one reason or another, Lionel Groulx's anti-Semitism did not spark much interest in historians after 1956.  It may have been that once the topic had been covered, it was deemed to be done with.  It fell to the Social Scientists, the Journalists and others to see Groulx's work as having some meaning, some usefulness, in interpreting the political conditions in Quebec.

In 1970, an academic at the University of Ottawa wrote a book in which he put Groulx into the context of his times.  Jean-Pierre Gaboury's Le Nationalisme de Lionel Groulx: Aspects idéologiques covers most of the ground that Delisle was to return to 20 years later.  His book is well documented and appears to come from neither of the ideological sides usually found in the study of Groulx: hagiography or hate mail.  It was published as a number in the Cahiers des Sciences sociales series by the University of Ottawa.

While defining what a 'nation' is and what nationalism means, Gaboury uses de Gobineau, H.S. Chamberlain and Maurras, though he does not immediately link their theories to those of Lionel Groulx.  Gaboury explains :

"Lionel Groulx est un homme du XIXe siècle.  En cela sa conception de la 'race' se rapproche de celle des hommes de ce siècle qui, comme Garneau au Canada, comme Michelet et Taine en France, crurent à la race et à son influence dans l'histoire.  Notons que le racisme ne se présente jamais seul.  Il est toujours lié à d'autres facteurs économiques en particulier.  Celui de l'historien Groulx est lié aux conditions qui engendrèrent son nationalisme.  D'ailleurs, nationalisme et racisme sont deux phénomènes distincts, mais conjoints; ils reposent sur des principes différents, mais ils ont le même but,  celui de conserver l'unité et l'homogénéité du groupe." (10)

For Groulx there was essentially "une symbiose du catholicisme et du nationalisme" and language "nous sommes restés catholiques, parce que nous sommes restés français." (11) Language and religion were what kept the French Canadian race from being swallowed up, assimilated by the majority anglo Saxon culture surrounding it, and it had to protect itself from any intrusions, however slight, from within.

Describing the "race" Groulx used terms such as "l'identité de sang sur des solidarités physiques." (12) He also said: "La nationalité n'est pas la race, simple résultat physiologique, fondée sur le mythe du sang. (C'est une) entité plutôt psychologique ou spirituelle." (13) In other words he was flexible in its definition, he did not mean for it to always be interpreted as a biological descriptor.  Yet, Gaboury notes, he was accused of racism because of his use the term.  Gaboury refers to Blair Fraser's aforementioned Macleans article published at the height of W.W.II  that called Groulx "un raciste convaincu,..." (14) Mason Wade made the same accusation, perhaps using the same source.  Whatever it was, notes Gaboury, "Blair Fraiser (sic) ni Mason Wade ne mentionnent les documents sur lesquels se fondent ces accusations." (15) Groulx , states Gaboury, replied with:" Je n'ai pas connu Reynold à cette époque....", nor did he know of the Comte de Gobineau until 25 years after he finished his studies in Europe, when Rosenberg brought de Gobineau's name into the light. (16)


As for his use of the term 'race', that was normal at the time, it did not have the biological determination that it had later. For him it could mean either ethnic, or group characteristics, or be the "psychologie des peuples". (17)  Lionel Groulx was indeed 'racist' in his 19th century beliefs: that there was an inequality between the races, particularly shown in his opinion of non-Christian Indians; his belief in the predetermined characteristics inherited by 'races'; finally in his belief that mixing 'races' was not a good idea. (18)  He believed that races influenced history.  Nationalism and racism were  distinct but joined in history.

Here Gaboury uses the infamous Brassier article from April, 1933 to illustrate Groulx the anti-Semite: "L'antisémitisme, non seulement n'est pas une solution chrétienne; c'est une solution négative et niaise," states Brassier/Groulx. (19)  He then suggests that French Canadians buy from their own kind as part of the Achat chez nous campaign.  The next, and only other real example given by Gaboury is a letter to a M. Lamoureux written in 1954 and mentioned in every work on Groulx and anti-Semitism as proof that he never 'reformed' himself like Laurendeau and others.

But there were mitigating circumstances.  According to Gaboury, the racism of Groulx and French Canada was the racism of the 'victim', the colonised. (20)  The racism of de Gobineau was that of caste, not nationalism and it certainly had no effect on Groulx, says Gaboury.  Groulx was writing about a culture, a community with the same history, religion and territory.  Many historians ("principalement canadiens-anglais), à l'instar de Mason Wade, aiment qualifier (Groulx) 'extrémiste.'" (21)  He notes as well the tendency of others to classify French Canadians as a group. "Les Canadiens français ont la réputation d'être antisémites.  Selon Mason Wade, qui juge cette réputation quelque peu méritée...." (22)

Gaboury himself writes "On peut donc conclure que l'historien du Canada français eut des attitudes 'racistes', ne serait-ce que par son opposition au mariage mixte (selon Albert Memmi, 'la véritable pierre de touche du racisme'). (23)


This is a fundamental change in the interpretation of Lionel Groulx's work.  Wade had basically presented Groulx as the descendant of the 19th century racial theorists and Oliver showed him to be anti-Semite, though less of a doer than a teacher.  Gaboury too presents Groulx as a racialist and an anti-Semite but over the intervening years since Oliver's work a new view of nationalism has evolved:  Groulx is a victim of his colonial status.  He is no more able to control his views on Jews than French Quebecers are able to control their own destinies.  Living under the thumb of the conquerors allows for a lot of latitude in ones opinions.  If Groulx wrote insulting articles about Jews, he was reacting to his own status by blaming other ethnic groups in his society.  In other words, the game played by the occupiers was ethnic rivalry, so it is no surprise to find intellectuals like Groulx using it to their own ends as well.  The same excuse for excess could be found in any colony or ex-colony in the third world.

Susan Mann Trofimenkoff is one of the best known, most often quoted students of Lionel Groulx and the period of the 1930's in Québec.  Her book The Dream of Nation (24) is one of the few English language books that attempts a synthesis of Quebec history, intellectual and social, from the days of New France to the 1980's.  It is the first since Wade's books that tries to cover so much French Canadian history.  She received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Laval in 1970 and taught at the Universities of Montreal and Calgary before taking up a post as professor of Canadian, French-Canadian, and Women's history at the University of Ottawa.  When she received her M.A. in history at the University of Western Ontario, Mason Wade was just arriving to take up a post at that University in the same department.  His work seems to have made little or no impression upon her.  While he appears in her bibliographies, there are few notes that credit his work and in the Suggested bibliographies that she includes in the Dream of Nation in 1983, his name is absent.

Trofimenkoff is, like Gaboury before her, from a newer generation of academics that seem less interested in using Groulx's work as a historian for comparative and critical purposes, and more interested in Groulx the ideological man.  Gaboury studied Groulx's nationalism in the context of a growing Quebec nationalism.  Trofimenkoff finds in Groulx a strong personality, a man who lived through adversity in his youth but through the lessons learned from his mother, persevered. (25)  He is a young priest who in his studies in France sees a society that is decadent and cruel, humiliating priests anticlerical laws and secular schooling all impress the teacher-priest with lessons that he would bring home to Canada. (26)  That and the cultural and linguistic homogeneity that he found there made him realise the terrible position his fellow French Canadians were in comparison.  Should the same secularising influences hit Quebec, they did not even have the strength of a homogenous culture to fight back with.  Abbé Groulx is not, to this new generation of academics, seen as representing a racist or fascist side of nationalist thought in Quebec.  He is more complex, deserving of attention for his theory, not his mistakes.  Her book, The Dream of Nation is one of the very few works written by an English Canadian on Quebec history that has been translated into French.

In the introduction to her 1973 book Abbé Groulx: Variations on a Nationalist Theme, she notes that Groulx "was, in fact, and remains, a favourite subject for labels.  Later critics, mostly English Canadian, attached a 'fascist' tag to Groulx for his unashamed admiration of certain European leaders." (27)  No less misleading a label despite its positive intentions was Claude Ryan calling Groulx the "spiritual father of modern Quebec" which could be interpreted in many ways depending upon what one thought of modern Québec at that time.

But to Trofimenkoff, it would be unfair to try and simplify a man as multi-faceted as Groulx.  Poet, philosopher, priest, professor, he was involved in all facets of his society, fighting for his place and the place of his people in their own country.  He often ended up battling against the people that he was trying to influence, the lethargy of his compatriots. By the 1950's he was having to do battle with the indifference, often the open hostility of a new generation of self-styled spokesmen for French Canada." (28) These were the neo-nationalists who, while not openly critical of him, derided the previous generation of nationalists and their romantic agrarian feudal dreams.  It was, says Trofeminkoff, his desire to instil some will to survive in French Canadians that caused him to occasionally overstate things and become carried away in his writings. Yet, while he recognised that his early writings were sometimes dogmatic and absolute, he never revised them.  As to his lethargy ridden fellow French Canadians, their interests seem to lay in the pleasures of American cinema and dance tunes more than in his calls to return to the soil.

His admiration for Maurras, Mussolini, Salazar, Dolfuss and later the Vichy edition of Marshal Pétain, was in part a function of his desire for a 'chef' but more importantly he wanted people to notice how the great men so often agreed with his point of view.  In other words it was vanity that drew him to dictators more than a desire to emulate them in Quebec.  It is important to keep his works in context, says Trofimenkoff.  While he was the epitome of the small town priest who made it to the big time, and loved the identification he himself made with world leaders, Trofimenkoff asks: How many people really listened to him?  "How many students, for instance, took up Groulx's call to a kind of lay priesthood?....How many politicians paid much attention to the rantings of Abbé Groulx? How many youngsters avoided the Sunday, English language cinema? ..How many children could resist Santa Claus?" (29)  This is often an argument made about Groulx's influence: that it resided more in the small world of intellectuals and true believers than in the general public.  She is marginalising his work, as others have done, in order to minimise the effect it could have had.  The reasons for doing so appear to be an attempt at writing Quebec history that is acceptable in Quebec and not just outside of it.  Her training at Laval could have sensitised her to the affronts caused by 'outsiders' who criticise Groulx too harshly.

She says that Groulx had little effect on most people living in Québec during his life time except for the impression that he had on those young men who would go on to create the Quiet Revolution. This was despite his masterful usage of any media at hand to get his message across; radio, journalism, public speeches and the pulpit.  She gives short shrift to his use of every available medium and his access to the editorial staffs of several journals.  It is hard for a reader to believe her assertion that he was a fringe player.

To Trofimenkoff, his was the life of a 19th century small town priest railing against the disease and horror of 20th century urbanism and decay, both moral and economic, and the place of French Canadians in history and in the future.  But his effect was minor and not harmful to the general population.  This theory can be seen in the light of the revisionism that began in the late 1960's where individuals lost ground to broader movements.  Ideologies, crowds, the 'will of the people' are all seen as carrying more import than the writing of one man.  Put into this context it is difficult to see Groulx as a great influence.  In describing the 'new history', introduced from France, Serge Gagnon writes: "Great events dominated by prominent individuals are no longer the historian's major preoccupation....The ultimate ambition of the new approach is to examine the totality of a society, therefore preventing the historian from the more or less arbitrary choice of one aspect of it." (30)  This is histoire totale  known more commonly as "social history" and Trofimenkoff is a practitioner.  It would be hard to write a social history that gives too much credit to one individual for the forces that swept his society.  Lionel Groulx is one man and therefore his proper place is as a part of society, not at the head of it.  To such a history any studies in the effective use of media for propaganda purposes which show that a savvy man can have disproportionate influence on his society, are unwelcome.

Groulx claimed that his literary output was simply "pure escapism". Trofimenkoff claims that had he only written fiction, he "would have been a force to be reckoned with in French Canada." (31)   She makes nothing of L'Appel de la race.  There is no accounting for literary taste.  Many readers have found his writing to be maudlin and overwrought.  It is debatable if his literary works would be on any library shelves today if not for his fame as a nationalist historian.

In 1975 Susan Trofimenkoff published Action Française: French Canadian Nationalism in the Twenties, the time in which this journal was guided by the abbé himself, until its demise in 1928.  In her preface she promised new, hitherto unpublished material on the subject at hand and indeed there are some revelations. For example, contrary to Michael Oliver’s assertions, the oft noted links between the Montreal Action française and that of it's namesake in France are played down significantly by Trofimenkoff.  She disliked the notion that nothing independent could have grown up in North America.  The Montreal journalists took what they wanted from the journal from France and wrote what they wanted to say for the rest.  They were 'fear driven' but it was a fear of urbanisation and industrialisation and assimilation, rather than fear of the state and hatred of Jews as one saw in their compatriot's paper in France.  Because of their fear they often wrote using pseudonyms.  "The use of pseudonyms, for example, was common, abbé Groulx had six or seven!" (32)  All of the Action française groups preferred to work incognito, "certainly a great number of the actions and reactions of the Action française can only be understood in the light of this pervading uneasiness." (33)  

As in her book, Variations, Trofimenkoff notes that Groulx’s apparent admiration of Charles Maurras was based more on his need for justification and moral support than any shared world view.  Maurras, the atheist, supported Catholicism, patriotism and the historical fidelity of a people.  He touched Groulx, but only a little. "His interest in Maurras was limited to the name of his newspaper." (34).

The only reference to Groulx in the context of anti-Semitism states that Groulx had refused a virulently anti-Semitic article from a student but he "did allow the occasional dig to appear in the periodical."  The journal identified the Jew as an "agent for the American way of life.  Money making and the financial control of the world, claimed one writer in L'Action française, was the aim of the Jew". (35)

They made little distinction between the Jewish film producer in America and the local Jews in Montreal.  Jews were a threat from the outside, and a competitor of the French Canadian from within.  In a 1924 series on urban culture as a threat to French Canadians, Groulx gave each writer a note of orientation:  "To Harry Bernard who was to write the article on theatre and cinema, Groulx insisted that he show the spiritual uselessness and the moral dangers of films." (36)  Bernard wrote that the American films, produced by Jewish American companies were immoral because Jews had no sense of morality or order and would show anything to make money, from divorce and free love to socialism and crime. (37)  He used the most common stereotypes from anti-Semitism's list.

After a cinema burned down, on a Sunday, in January 1927 killing 78 children (38), Groulx and Action française demanded that action be taken to keep children out of the theatres, to ban advertising of immoral films and to censor American films even to the point of preventing their entry into Canada.  Nowhere in his attack on the cinema was there any mention of Jews.  In other words, Groulx allowed the journalists of l'Action française to be bigots, but drew the line at putting his own name on articles attacking Jews.  Not the actions of a pure man to be sure, but the actions of a "xenophobic" nationalist.

Trofimenkoff does not believe Groulx to have been an anti-Semite any more that most people were during that era.  That is to say, Groulx accepted a certain level of anti-Semitism as a matter of course and did not do much to forbid it in his journals.  Which is not an argument that is easy to accept.  If Lionel Groulx was just another member of society, with no more or less of its vices, then no one would be writing about him.  He was a much greater force than Susan Trofimenkoff allows.  It does not fit in with social history theory but as a published author, editor, respected professor, radio personality and above all a priest in an overwhelmingly conservative Catholic society, Groulx was as powerful, psychologically at least, as the Premier of the province.  After all it can be said that no one listens to the Premier either, but his views somehow have an influence.  Perhaps it is because of his access to the small group of elites, intellectual, academic and religious that Groulx has an influence but it does exist.  In order to fit him in with his times Trofimenkoff had to downplay much of his work and make him into something less than he really was.  Her Groulx is one dimensional, from the angry young zealot who devotes his life to helping young people, to the vain editorialist who admires fascists only because they agree with him.

André J. Bélanger's thesis, L'Apolitisme des idéologies Québécoises: le grand tournant de 1934-1936 was published in 1974 by Laval University Presses.  He graduated from Laval with a Ph.D. Political Science in 1973 where he had been a professor since 1965, and went on to teach at the University of Montreal.  A long chapter three is devoted to the subject of : "Lionel Groulx, une mystique Québécoise."  Looking at Groulx and his racial theories Bélanger notes that Gaboury has already spent over a dozen pages on the subject and he was not going to repeat the process.  He notes that expressions like 'race' were common in Groulx's time and the terminology was ambiguous. (39)  Besides, Groulx began to use the term 'nation' much more frequently by the mid-thirties which was more of a cultural term than a biological one.

The chapter on Groulx deals mostly with his mysticism and theories on 'race', his exclusivity towards Indians and immigrants; his search for a 'chef' to lead the way. To Bélanger "Groulx incline en faveur d'un certain conditionnement qui se rapproche d'une filiation biologique." (40)  Groulx believed in genetics as being part of the French Canadian race, not just culture and common geographic roots and rural outlooks.  And the enemies of the race were the 'déracinés', the servants of industrialism, the machine of capitalism: materialism, paganism, agnosticism, free thinking: "La civilisation américaine en serait à la fine pointe." (41)

In Montreal Groulx found many monsters: women seeking equal rights, Protestants pushing for divorce laws, immoral cinema and cosmopolitanism and more. (42)  The common French Canadian had been betrayed by the French-Canadian bourgeoisie and the politicians. The nation was divided.  Immigration, anglicisation, urbanisation, were all part of the high treason coming from politicians in Ottawa. 

Only after 60+ pages of explanations of Groulx's thoughts on a new order, a return to a feudal society more or less, do we see a comment on who else beside bourgeois, politicians and English are enemies of the French Canadians.


To Groulx: "L'Immigration, par exemple, ne risque pas seulement de nous noyer dans une mer anglo-saxonne...Par ailleurs, un peu dans la même veine, Groulx verse dans l'antisémitisme mais avec des gants blanc jusqu'aux aisselles: se gardant bien d'être peu charitable  envers les Israélites, il s'en prend à la "dictature juive", dictature internationalisme juif qui comprend de "dangereux agents de dissolution morale et sociale à travers le monde." (43)

His section on Jeune-Canada notes that the young men, faithful to their master, were enthusiastic propagandists and were ready to fight against the adversaries: "politiciens, notamment les libéraux à Quebec, et les Juifs." (44)  They adopted Groulx' ideology, his mysticism and took on his enemies.  They (Jeune-Canada) joined in attacking the Jewish community established in Quebec.  What was implicit in Groulx by a turn of phrase whereby the Jew was accused is dealt with boldly by his emulators.  Like Le Devoir, they took advantage of anything that came to hand says Bélanger. (45)  So when the young men attacked, verbally and in writing, the Jewish community at large for everything from promoting capitalism to revolution, they were following what they believed to be their master's commands.  This could mean that they were being manipulated by Groulx to carry out the activities that he, in his position, could not.  If the theory of his influence over these young men is carried to its conclusion, then he shows up as a reactionary force who uses duplicity to carry out his wishes.  Groulx is shown keeping his distance from the actual attacks on Jews, but he is also shown to have had profound influence on his young followers.

Bélanger gives only one example of Groulx's anti-Semitism, which the abbé wrote 'wearing white gloves up to his elbows.'  But by putting Jeune-Canada, and L'Action Nationale directly under the influence of Groulx, he is making the case that Groulx' influence was turned toward cruelty against Jews and other groups such as the politicians that he disliked.  "Lorsque confrontées les unes les autres, les finalités proposées par l'Action nationale et les Jeune-Canada sont en somme presque identiques.  Elles suivent assez docilement les intentions du maître." (46)

Bélanger does not dwell on the Abbé's dark side.  Groulx's anti-Semitism was real, as he demonstrates, but played only a minor role in his life and in his work.  As with Michael Oliver, Bélanger finds that Groulx's students did more of the harm than the master himself.  His anti-Semitism was, moreover, tied in to his fears for the well being of the French Canadian race that he felt was about to become drowned in a sea of immigrants.  In other words, he understands Groulx and does not hold him responsible for the anti-Semitic outbursts that took place during the 1930's.  Groulx was not specifically a racist, he was voicing, in a minor way, a common fear of the French Canadian minority.  This is revisionist history as written by a political scientist.  While an historian like Trofimenkoff made Groulx seem a smaller part of the social history he was a part of, social scientists, the fastest growing segment of Quebec's academic field in the 1960's and 70's, were using Groulx to prove other points.  Groulx became something of a conservative, clerical, freedom fighter.  A man who had to fight dirty sometimes but who, in the grand scheme of things, should be remembered more for keeping the ideological flame alight while living in dark times.

Lita Rose Betcherman, Globe and Mail book reviewer, labour-arbitrator and Toronto socialite, published The Swastika and the Maple Leaf in 1975. (47)  The book is a history of the fascist movements in Canada in the 1930's and has been used extensively in subsequent works, by David Rome for example, to bolster their own arguments.  While purporting to be about Fascist movements throughout Canada, the majority of chapters are on Quebec, beginning with a chapter on "Preconditions of Fascism in Quebec" in the 1930's.  She notes that there is little doubt of the reality of widespread fascist tendencies in Quebec society, it was not just a question of the elites dabbling in something new.  As well "undeniably there was a bedrock of religious anti-Semitism taught from the pulpit and in the classroom." (48)


Lionel Groulx's part in this is demonstrated by his influence on the Fascist Ordre Patriotique de Goglus, a movement started by Adrien Arcand and Joseph Ménard.  "The Order was also in the tradition of twentieth century French Canadian nationalism, particularly the brand preached by the ultranationalist Abbé Groulx." (49)  He is thus tied, by Betcherman, to a movement that openly admired fascist Italy, and that had called for the racial purification of Quebec society. There is no documentation that demonstrates whether Groulx ever approved of or even thought about Le Goglus.

Much of her book is made up of the outrageous attacks on Jews, in print and in speeches, made by Les Goglus, a fringe movement at best.  For example the fact that they supported the Achat chez nous program is given as yet another link to Groulx.

Betcherman uses strong language throughout her book: "As the Nazi regime went from strength to strength in its first year, there were increasing signs of anti-democratic and anti-Semitic sentiment in Quebec.  For one thing the circle of ultranationalists who sat at the feet of Abbé Groulx began publishing a review called L'Action nationale, in which dictatorship was praised and anti-Semitic articles and commentary appeared." (50) Thus Groulx is tied to Nazism in one fell swoop and made to look himself like a Svengali with disciples sitting at his feet.  Betcherman notes that Charles Maurras had been "a shaping influence on Groulx since the latter's graduate studies in Europe". (51)   This is taken straight from Wade's French Canadians .  Using the quotes from Wade, Betcherman goes even further to remark that Groulx had developed a nationalism that, under the Maurras influence, was "anti-democratic and racist." (52) Her only source: Mason Wade.  To a large extent Lita-Rose Betcherman has taken the historiography of Groulx back a step.  From his re-incarnation as an ideological leader of a beleaguered colonial people, she brings him back to the Fraser/Wade portrait of a racial chauvinist.  His influences were not the colonial thinkers who fought the British Empire throughout the world; they were the arrogant Aryan Europeans of the 19th century whose presence continued to linger in a malodorous fashion for the first half of the 20th century.  He was not a Gandhi as much as he was a Rosenberg, the Baltic eccentric associated with much of the Nazi party's Aryan mythology.

Yet she states that despite his love of dictators, he did "not overtly preach anti-Semitism."  However he did espouse Achat chez nous, " and his strongly nationalist views, taken to their logical conclusion by his followers, inspired a racist xenophobia." (53)  One might say that any nationalist views taken to their logical conclusion might inspire racist xenophobia.  Why his was especially virulent, and why he had 'followers' who seemed to misinterpret what he was saying, is not explored.  Within one page Groulx has been linked to fascism and anti-Semitic racism while the author notes that he never espoused such things himself.  It leaves the reader with a highly coloured portrait of Groulx that one sees in later works quoting Betcherman as a source.

It is peculiar to this book that while most of the chapters dealing with Québec are about Adrien Arcand, 'the Fuehrer', and his strong streak of fascism and anti-Semitism, Groulx is somehow tied in as a distant mentor, his school of nationalism is shown to have been an influence on the would be dictator. (54)  It would be difficult to take anything Arcand said or did without a grain of salt.  Betcherman ties them together, the nationalist historian priest and the "zealot, fanatic ...would be Canadian Fuehrer" with nothing to back up what she alleges. (55)  Adrien Arcand was to all intents and purposes the 'real thing' when it came to fascism in Canada.  His blue shirted troops, the mass meetings, the torrent of vile propaganda that his organisation, Les Goglus, turned out attacking Jews and immigrants and praising Hitler's Germany were blatant enough to get him locked up for the duration of WWII.  Even after the war he went right back to work, teaching young Ernst Zundel, for example, the methods of spreading hate literature.  Her link between the two was the shared viewpoints that, allegedly, Groulx had with Arcand and that stem from the anti-Semitic movements that rose out of Europe in the 19th century.  Arcand's 'shock troops' were little different in nature from those in Franco's Spain or Mussolini's Italy.  They lacked only wide public support and money.

Betcherman's charges against Groulx all seem to stem from the original work by Mason Wade.  There are no new sources here to substantiate her allegations of a connection between Groulx and Adrien Arcand, nor does she give any background to the reader to explain who Groulx was and who he worked with.  Yet her book is one of the key sources for subsequent articles and books on racism in Québec and especially on the Nationalist movement of that province.  As mentioned previously, Wade's influence is greatest on the more popular works of history.  There is not much theory or ideology in Betcherman's work, just old fashioned narrative history.  She does not try to interpret or explain the racism and fascism of Canada and Quebec in the 1930's; she wishes to expose them.

Victor Teboul, graduate of McGill University, received his doctorate in Communications from the Université de Montréal in 1981.  He has been a teacher and worked for Radio Québec and Radio Canada and founded a journal, Jonathan, in 1981.  His main interests lay in the influence that Quebec ideologies have on the culture of the province. "Ses nombreuses interventions sur la scène politique québécoise et canadienne visent à un élargissement de la notion d'appartenance et à une convergence des cultures." (56)  His Mythe et images du juif au Québec is a book of essays that was published in 1977.  In it Victor Teboul studies the portrayal of Jews in Québecois literature.  This is part of a trend to study social and historical problems in a new light.  Instead of leaving the field to historians, other interested parties rushed in to shed light on the anti-Semitic past in Quebec.  His essay "L'Antisémitisme Québécois: Essai de définition" analyses the anti-Semitism that manifested itself between 1920 and 1940, focusing on L'Action française, L'Action nationale, les Cahiers des Dix, Le Devoir and others.

He begins  to look at Groulx, by asking the most important question of all: "comment évaluer la marginalité des propos antisémites d'un Lionel Groulx ou d'un André Laurendeau lorsqu'on sait quelle a été l'importance de ces deux hommes au sein de l'intelligentsia québécoise?" (57)   Teboul starts by taking up the argument put forward by J.P. Gaboury that while Groulx "croyait en une certaine inégalité des races humaines" it was the racism of  the 'colonised', the 'victim' much like the Arabs and Africans who were colonised by the Europeans. (58)

It was the fear of the "immigrants déracinés" who could upset the 'cohésion nationale' that drove Groulx and the fear that the Anglais would use immigration to destroy the French Canadian nation.  Jews, says Teboul were thought to be rootless, stateless and therefore not assimilatable.  After several examples of anti-Semitic references found in works by famous Quebec authors, (Gabrielle Roy, Roch Carrier),Teboul brings us to an infamous letter from the bishop of Linz, Austria published in Groulx's L'Action nationale in 1933.  This letter appears in most works on anti-Semitism in Québec and is seen as the low point in the dark ages that were the 1930's in that province.  But, he notes, "On sait, par exemple, que l'abbé Groulx a toujours nié l'accusation de racisme portée contre lui par Mason Wade." (59)  It obviously hurt the abbé deeply, what Mason Wade wrote.  Despite the general criticism and purposeful shunning of Wade's work by much of French Quebec's academic community, the accusations stung.

The Abbé did not really believe in biological races, he merely reflected the way of thinking current in the early 20th century Quebec, says Teboul, echoing Gaboury.  But Teboul is not an apologist for Groulx.  He immediately produces in full a 1954 letter to a M. Lamoureux in which Groulx made clear that his anti-Semitism was real. (60)  "Outre le thème du Juif déraciné et inassimilable, s'ajoutent ceux qui en sont les dérivés: le Juif perturbateur de l'ordre brise l'intégrité du groupe, et le Juif corrupteur de l'ordre moral parce que ses penchants de matérialiste."etc. (61)  In his letter Groulx shows the perception of French Canadians as "une entité modeste et fragile face à la menace incarnée par le Juif." (62)  He still believed that the Jew was all powerful, an international titan who caused revolutions, corrupted morals, and lusted for money.

The letter, which is the only example given by Teboul of Groulx's own anti-Semitic writings, united the rational and emotional elements of anti-Semitism, the conscious and unconscious phobias put on the Jews by the anti-Semite.  Groulx's attitude was by no means isolated.  "Elle se rattache à une droite cléricale, nationaliste et agissante qui, dans le première moitié du vingtième siècle, se perçoit comme le défenseur des droits des francophones et comme la gardienne de l'ordre moral." (63)  It was a movement inspired by the thinking of Charles Maurras and his Action française (64) "la haine du Juif constitue un des principaux chevaux de bataille de L'Action française que dirige au Québec l'abbé Lionel Groulx." (65)   Mason Wade is the main source of the background information on Groulx for this section.

If Jeune-Canada and Groulx's journals were marginal at that time, says Teboul, their anti-Semitism was not.  Not marginal but an accepted part of the times. (66)  Stereotypes were found in magazines, newspaper , "dans les oeuvres de Robert Rumilly...C'est dans cette lignée cléricale que s'inscrit l'antisémitisme de Lionel Groulx.." (67)  The clerics and nationalists of the right had no conception of the world of commerce nor did they understand economics and so they attacked wherever they could find scapegoats for the problems of French Canadians.  The Achat chez nous campaign being the most obvious example.  Jews were not treated violently, as in other places at that time, they were rarely confronted.  They represented something almost mythological, an unseen enemy, a bogeyman.

Victor Teboul put Groulx into a kind of context.  One can see how the influence of the revisionists has been felt down the line.  The 1954 letter, though, is all that is necessary for Teboul to use to portray Groulx's anti-Semitic inclinations.  It is the most damning of all, particularly in its timing, coming after most nationalists had turned their backs on such talk and after the revelations of the holocaust had sickened the world.

Groulx's damaging anti-Semitic work was not just in passing his ideas on to the youth of his province.  It was in the, to Teboul, ongoing presence of anti-Semitic characters in the culture of Quebec.  In books and plays these Jewish characters appear as stock stereotypes with no depth or humanity.  It is a legacy of a time when the church and spokesmen like Groulx wrote their own characterisations, or at the very least, did not criticise those who did.  It carries over into future generations and is not even recognised by critics nor the public.  This is the great damage, to have normalised anti-Semitism, to have made it acceptable.

(1) Roberta Hamilton & John L. McMullan, eds. Quebec Society: Tradition, Modernity, and Nationhood.(Essays of Hubert Guindon.)  pxxviii. The editors are introducing Guindon by paraphrasing his ideas.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Hubert Guindon. "Social unrest, social class, and Quebec's bureaucratic revolution." Quebec Society. p.32 First published in Queen's Quarterly, Summer 1964.

(4) Ibid, p33.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Kenneth McRoberts. "The Sources of Neo-nationalism in Quebec." Quebec Since 1945.  p101.

(7) Ibid. p80.

(8) Ibid.

(9) Quebec and its Historians. p54.

(10) Le Nationalisme de Lionel Groulx. p34

(11) Ibid. p22.

(12) Ibid. p27.

(13) Ibid.

(14) Ibid. p28.

(15) Ibid.

(16) Ibid.

(17) Ibid. p33.

(18) Ibid. p34.

(19) Ibid. p35.

(20) Ibid. p36.

(21) Ibid. p42.

(22) Ibid. p35.

(23) Ibid. p34.

(24) The Dream of Nation: A Social and Intellectual History of Quebec. 1983.

(25) Ibid. p219.

(26) Ibid. p220.

(27) Susan Mann Trofimenkoff, ed. Abbé Groulx: Variations on a Nationalist

Theme. p7.

(28) Ibid. p7.

(29) Ibid. p12.

(30) Quebec and Its Historians:20th century. p62.

(31) Abbé Groulx:Variations. p18.

(32) Action Francaise: French Canadian Nationalism in the Twenties.  p19.

(33) Ibid.

(34) Ibid. p25.

(35) Ibid. p79.

(36) Ibid. p76.

(37) Ibid. p77.

(38) In Clouds in the Thirties the number is 70.

(39) André Bélanger L'Apolitisme. p192.

(40) Ibid. p219.

(41) Ibid. p221.

(42) Ibid. p222.

(43) Ibid. p251 Quoting Jacques Brassier June 1933.

(44) Ibid. p259.

(45) Ibid. p263.

(46) Ibid. p229.

(47) A search on the Infoglobe database turned up equal numbers of book reviews and mentions in the Lifestyle Column.

(48) Lita Rose-Betcherman. The Swastika and the Maple Leaf.  p4.

(49) Ibid. p7.

(50) Ibid. p32.

(51) Ibid.

(52) Ibid. p33.

(53) Ibid.

(54) Ibid. p109.

(55) Ibid. p107.

(56) From the cover of Le Jour: Émergence du libéralisme moderne au Québec. Victor Teboul, 1984.

(57) Victor Teboul.  Mythes et images du juif.  p152.

(58) Ibid. p153.

(59) Ibid. p173.

(60) Ibid. pp173-174.

(61) Ibid.

(62) Ibid. p175.

(63) Ibid. p176.

(64) Ibid.

(65) Ibid. p177.

(66) Ibid. p182.

(67) Ibid.



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Source: Ross GORDON, The Historiographical Debate on the Charges of Anti-Semitism Made Against Lionel Groulx, M.A. thesis (History), University of Ottawa, 1996, 141p., pp. 43-66.

© 2006 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College